EmptyVenue: Roundabout Theatre Company at American Airlines Theatre, New York (Through Dec. 7)
Frank Langella is electric in "A Man for All Seasons," the first Broadway revival of Robert Bolt's drama at the Roundabout.
Portraying Sir Thomas More, the 16th century statesman and humanist who refused to recognize King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England, Langella, Tony winner for "Frost/Nixon," dominates the production at the American Airlines Theatre. His More is courageous but fatally naive, witty, intellectual and, finally and utterly sympathetically, a father and husband momentarily terrified to face his own death.
Langella's More is the sort of figure that feels in short supply in this age of political cowardice. He's a man who believes in his convictions, speaks truth to power and accepts the consequences.
But the production that surrounds Langella is not up to the star's charismatic performance.
Bolt's drama won the Tony for best play in 1962, but these days the piece, while relevant, feels a bit thin. It needs more than a star turn, and it also needs deft direction and a supporting cast that lends heft to characters that are mostly one-dimensional.
Director Doug Hughes ("Doubt") brings a smart pace to the proceedings, but the performances are erratic.
Dakin Matthews is wonderfully caustic as Cardinal Wolsey, but Jeremy Strong makes a bland Richard Rich, a pivotal opportunist with no allegiance to anyone but himself. Zach Grenier gives nastiness new meaning as Thomas Cromwell, a conniving henchman of King Henry (Patrick Page), but Michel Gill could afford more gravitas as More's friend the Duke of Norfolk.
The production also could benefit from a surer sense of the 16th century environment in which these politicos operate. Santo Loquasto's set, an all-purpose structure of wood beams, is neutral to the point of being characterless. One thinks fondly of the vivid 1966 Oscar-winning film with its period textures and rich feel of an earlier time.
But Langella truly seems to live in that 16th century world of political expediency and vanishing moral character.
Cast: Frank Langella, Peter Bradbury, Jeremy Strong, Michel Gill, Maryann Plunkett, Hannah Cabell, Dakin Matthews, Zach Grenier, Triney Sandoval, Michael Esper, Patrick Page, Patricia Hodges, Charles Borland, George Morfogen, Emily Dorsch.
Playwright: Robert Bolt.
Director: Doug Hughes.
Set design: Santo Loquasto.
Costume design: Catherine Zuber.
Lighting design: David Lander.
Original music and sound design: David Van Tieghem.